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review 2014-11-18 22:05
Ugh. Just Ugh.
Screwdrivered - Alice Clayton

Viv inherits a gorgeous, beach-side Victorian house, complete with horses tended by a real-live cowboy. She immediately assumes that she's somehow landed in one of the romance novels she loves to read, and that she and the cowboy must be meant for each other.


The problem? The cowboy is kind of a Neanderthal.


There is a hot librarian, who actually (unlike the Neanderthal cowboy) seems to be able to string a sentence together and further (again, unlike the Neanderthal cowboy) seems to actually like Viv. The problem is that Viv spends all but the last few pages of the book Too Stupid To Live Notice. And in her obliviousness, she's often pretty douchey toward Clark the librarian.


This story was infuriatingly predictable, the characters flat. Clark was okay--(except for his refusal to call Viv by anything other than Vivian, even after she corrected him a zillion times--that habit grew on Viv, but not on me; it's just disrespectful not to call a person by what she tells you she wants to be called)--but that might be my bias toward beta heroes talking. Viv was a flake and I never warmed up to her. Clark could have done much better.


I was seriously annoyed by her dreams/fantasies in which she imagines herself in the most lurid, purple-prosed romance novel ever. These were supposed to be funny, but I'm defensive about the way non-romance readers view the genre, and these scenes bought into all the worst stereotypes in a way that touched a nerve and made my skin crawl.


As usual, Alice Clayton offers some snappy, funny dialogue, but on the whole this book could have been so much better than it was.

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review 2014-05-27 22:13
Let Your Freak Flags Fly
The Principle of Desire - Delphine Dryden

I've liked all three of Delphine Dryden's Science of Temptation series, and I think I liked this one the best. Beth is a switch who has recently left her Dom of eight years because he wasn't willing to let her explore her own dominant side. She meets Ed at a party hosted by Ivan and Cami (whom readers may recognize from The Theory of Attraction, book 1 of the series), but writes him off as a cute but klutzy dork after he spills a drink on her. Later, Beth joins Ivan, Cami, and the rest of the kinksters at their local BDSM club, and Ed unwittingly follows them there, having accidentally left his phone in Ivan's car. Ed is alarmed at the discovery that so many of his friends and neighbors are into kink, but he rolls with it. When Beth's ex-boyfriend shows up, Ed agrees to pose as Beth's sub and actually takes a whipping just to lend the ruse some authenticity (and of course it turns his crank more than he'd have guessed).


I found Beth and Ed more likeable than the main characters in the previous two books, and I wanted their story to last longer than it did. Beth isn't looking for a sub or a dom; she wants a playmate, and she and Ed switch things up in a way that is lighthearted and playful (though some of what they actually do is a little hard-core for my tastes). Their fledgling relationship is threatened, though, when Beth's ex comes back into the picture and breaks his leg, and Beth feels duty-bound to take care of him (which puts her back in the submissive pattern she'd only managed to get out of when she kicked him to the curb a few months back). The ex was such a jerk that his character was kind of cartoonish, and that's one of the things I wished had been more fleshed out in a longer story: I understand the lure of lost loves and familiar patterns, but Aaron was such a douchenozzle I had a hard time believing Beth would be even slightly tempted to go back.


Apart from the kinky sex and romance, the best part of this series is that Delphine Dryden isn't afraid to let her characters' freak flags fly: they play Dungeons and Dragons and read comic books and go to Comic Cons, and they're all delightfully, entertainingly geeky in the best way.

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review 2014-04-26 04:26
I Have a New Squick.
Like No Other Lover - Julie Anne Long

I have no problem with sexually-liberated heroines or premarital sex in a historical romance, or even casual, itch-scratching, no-strings-attached sex (in contemporary settings), but this book made me realize what I've never been able to articulate before: I get squicked out by historical romance novels where the couple consummate their love before the hero is available to commit to the heroine. I'm okay with scenes where it's clear that if they get caught, he'll make an honest woman out of her, even if he hasn't come right out and said so -- but if the obstacle to the couple's happy ever after still appears insurmountable, it really, really, viscerally bothers me if the hero seduces her (or even accepts her invitation, if she's the instigating party). She's the one who's taking all the risk, throwing her reputation out the window, and she's the one who will bear the consequences in a society that places so much stock on a woman's purity, and so for a hero to expose her to such risk when he's not free to make things right should the need arise strikes me as the very opposite of heroic behavior: indeed, it is the height of dishonor. 


Unfortunately, this is such a book. Miles Redmond has promised his father he'll woo and marry the daughter of a family friend, and if he does so, the bride's family will fund his next trip to the tropics to continue his life's work (naturalism). However, though the girl in question is totally unobjectionable, Miles is drawn, against his will and better judgment, toward the beautiful but totally objectionable Cynthia Brightly. 


Cynthia is objectionable because the Redmond family is all about status, and she doesn't have any: no family, no money, no useful connections. In fact, all of London is abuzz with news that will ruin her--

her erstwhile fiancé dueled and nearly died because she kissed someone else in a garden

(spoiler show)

--so Cynthia attends the Redmond's house party determined to find a husband before the news of her fall from grace reaches Sussex. Cynthia is in truly desperate straits: she has three shillings to her name and no home to return to when the fortnight-long house party ends. 


Determined not to let her desperation show, Cynthia sets to work choosing and wooing a husband from among the Redmond's guests, and apart from Miles (who makes clear from the outset that he won't marry Cynthia, though he's happy to steal clandestine kisses in alcoves), she finds three candidates: an older-but-not-decrepit widower who is nice but unattractive, a handsome but rather foppish and shallow young lordling, and an ex-soldier turned moral scholar who is pompous but not immune to Cynthia's charms. All the while, though, she's drawn to Miles though she knows her virtue is the one thing she has to offer her husband, and a dalliance with Miles would put that virtue (and consequently her whole future) in jeopardy. 


Good stuff, right? I'm all for a little bit of angst with my romance, and this is a deliciously angsty set-up. There are good, valid, sensible reasons why Miles and Cynthia can't act on their attraction, which is always better than some of the manufactured, I-don't-wanna-love-you-because-REASONS conflicts one sometimes finds in romance. However, the romance feels wrong because--for all Miles pontificates about upholding the honor of his family and keeping his word to his dad and all that--his conduct is, at base, very dishonorable. He pursues Cynthia, stealing kisses and illicit caresses because he doesn't have the will to resist her siren's charms, all while more publicly wooing the milquetoast daughter of his daddy's friend. Meanwhile, Cynthia is also charming other men just as fast and as hard as she can (but in her case, her fickleness is out of true pecuniary desperation, so I'm willing to cut her more slack). It's wrong of Miles to urge Cynthia toward seduction when he can't marry her, and it's wrong of both of them to give in to their base attraction to each other when they have both sought and won the affections of other partners. 


When the conflict resolves and Miles decides to tell Daddy he's decided to marry who he pleases, we're supposed to feel good because Miles and Cynthia get their happy ending, but my pleasure was dimmed by sympathy for the potential spouses they'd thrown over, both of whom had been very publicly courted and who both seemed to have honest feelings for the protagonists. In order to enjoy the end of this book, the reader has to forget (or not care) that Miles' Georgina and Cynthia's Lord Argosy must both suffer very public humiliation and very private heartache as a result of being jilted, an injustice all the more unfair because both are innocent bystanders, undeserving of such treatment. 


That (major) squick aside, parts of this book were fantastic. One scene in which Cynthia leads the party guests in an ill-advised drinking game is probably the funniest scene I've ever read in an historical romance. I also very much liked Cynthia as a protagonist, though it took me awhile to warm up to her, and while I don't approve of all of her choices, I respect why she behaved the way she did, and I admire the way she squares her shoulders and gets on with the work of surviving even in the bleakest situations, without wallowing in self-pity. She deserves the love and the family she longs for so desperately, and I was glad to see her get her happy ending… I just wish there hadn't been so much collateral damage along the way.

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review 2014-04-23 13:23
Quirky Canadian Friends-to-Lovers Contemporary
Plain Jayne - Laura Drewry

I am a sucker for the friends-to-lovers trope (maybe because I married my best friend from middle school), so when I saw this ARC in the NetGalley catalog, it had "CATNIP" written all over it. Jayne and Nick grew up together in a small town outside of Vancouver. Jayne was raised, reluctantly, by her cold and unloving grandmother after her mother died of a drug overdose, while Nick grew up in a close, warm, secure nuclear family. Jayne left town the day after her high school graduation, after her grandmother made it clear she wasn't welcome any longer. She's been back only rarely since, most recently for Nick's late wife's funeral several years prior to the start of the novel's events. That visit was disastrous, since Abby (the wife) had always been jealous of Jayne and Nick's friendship, and Abby's bereaved mother consequently flipped out when Jayne showed up at the funeral, the result being that Jayne essentially got run out of town on a rail.


When the novel begins, Jayne and Nick are in their early thirties. The grandmother has died and left her bookstore and apartment to Jayne, but in terrible shape: after Jayne left, Gram became a hoarder and the building is packed to the rafters with rats and trash, and the city has threatened to condemn it and tear it down if Jayne can't get it cleaned up and up to code in just a few weeks. Nick offers to help, putting his contracting skills, and even his crew, to work to meet the unreasonable deadline. Since the apartment is uninhabitable, Nick also offers Jayne his spare bedroom, much to the dismay of his girlfriend, Lisa.


If that sets "Infidelity Trope" alarms off in your head, you can relax. I usually hate romantic triangle stories, but my favorite thing about this book was that all of the characters aspired to behave like civil adults, and not hurt each other. Jayne didn't horn in on Lisa and Nick's relationship, and in fact went to pains to reassure Lisa that they were just friends. Lisa was clearly uncomfortable with Nick's and Jayne's close bond, but she trusted Nick and didn't behave like a jealous shrew. -And Nick lived up to that trust, and he did not make a move on Jayne until after he'd realized he had no future with Lisa. He broke things off with Lisa in a scene that was painful but honest and honorable before he even told Jayne that his feelings for her went beyond friendship.


Another thing I liked about this book was how deftly and believably the author crafted Jayne's character, and specifically her deep-seated loneliness and insecurities due to her neglectful childhood. Nick is the only person who has ever made her feel loved, but she knows how fragile that bond is, so she's terrified to risk their friendship. She'd rather be relegated to the friendzone than lose him entirely, and that means holding him at arm's length because in his enthusiasm to help her, Jayne knows Nick puts his relationships with Lisa and with his mother (not Jayne's biggest fan) at risk, but Nick doesn't see it. With her background, Jayne could have been a sad, insecure doormat, but she isn't: she hides her sorrows from everyone (except the reader) and does what needs to be done, looking out for Nick's best interests even when he doesn't know she's doing it.


There were other quirky things I enjoyed about this book, too: Jayne (like me) is a huge fan of 80s music and John Hughes movies, and the book is sprinkled with nostalgic quotes and references to those sources. I also encountered some delightfully colorful Canadian idioms, such as "I could eat the north end of a southbound skunk right about now." Um, yum?


However, there were parts of the narrative that dragged, and there were characters and sideplots included just to give the story that twee "small town feel" (or maybe they're sequel-bait, but either way they felt superfluous), and the author's attempt to explain why Jayne's Gram was the way she was felt too convenient and unsatisfying, which tainted the ending for me. This is Laura Drewry's debut effort, though, and if her writing improves with practice and experience, there may well be great things ahead.


***I received a free ARC from Loveswept and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.***



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review 2013-10-06 16:27
Subplot Overshadows the Romance
Flirting with Disaster - Ruthie Knox

I have not enjoyed the Camelot series nearly as much as Ruthie Knox's stand alone contemporary romances (About Last Night, Ride With Me), which I loved. This latest edition, like the rest of the series so far, is good but not great. The main characters are complex, complicated, sympathetic, likeable people (character development is definitely one of Ms. Knox's talents), and the dialogue is sharp and funny, and the sex is HAWT, but the plot just... lacks a certain something. Katie and Sean are paired on a job for a security firm owned by Katie's brother: their task is to find out who's threatening has-been singer-songwriter Judah Pratt and put a stop to it. Perhaps because the threats are so vague and nebulous and never acted upon, I found it difficult to work up much interest in this plot line; and then it resolved in an entirely predictable and anticlimactic way. Judah is also struggling with working up the courage to come out of the closet, but even that wasn't very compelling at all: as Katie observed early on, it seemed he wasn't ashamed of being gay and it would be a relief when the news broke, so the process didn't really generate much dramatic tension. In all, I felt like a whole lot of the book was devoted to Judah's story, which really wasn't that interesting. (And now that I've written that, I realize that was the problem I had with the first full length book in the series, Along Came Trouble, too: I liked Ellen and Caleb well enough, but could not stir myself to care about Jamie and Carly, the secondary characters whose on again/off again romance paralleled the main couple's relationship.)

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